Smoothies are hot. They’re on the menu at Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, Pinkberry, Starbucks, Jamba Juice, and, of course, Smoothie King. And homemade smoothies are so popular, say market watchers, that they’ve boosted sales of frozen fruit and blenders. Companies are cashing in on the smoothie craze with frozen fruit-veggie blends, frozen “thaw & go” cups, breakfast smoothies, and more. Which are the best? Here’s the scoop. Frozen Blends It’s a snap to make your own smoothie. Step 1: Toss some fruit and low-fat (or non-dairy) milk into a blender. Step 2: Press “blend.” Ta-daah! For some starter combos, see “Make Your Own Smoothie” on page 15. Or pick up a frozen smoothie blend (which is mostly frozen fruit) at the market. Look for brands with no added sugar or juice. That’s how we chose our Best Bites. If the bag says to blend with juice, use water, milk (dairy or non-dairy), or a mix of milk and plain yogurt instead. (After all, why add juice to fruit?) Dairy or soy milk means more protein, calcium, and other nutrients. And fruit is healthier than juice. Our faves: ■ Earthbound Farm Organic Smoothie Kickstart. All four varieties are Best Bites. And you get more veggies than in most brands. The first ingredient in the Kale Berry is kale. ■ Wyman’s of Maine. The Strawberries, Blueberries & Cherries with Kale is a Best Bite...and a real taste treat. It’s got more fruit than veg, but doesn’t skimp on the kale. ■ Dole Fruit & Veggie Blends. “Each blend is a carefully selected mixture of all-natural fruits and vegetables,” says the bag. Despite names like “Fruit ‘n Greens,” you’re getting way more fruit than vegetables. (Fruit is fine, but you may have bought it for the Veggies.) Still, all three varieties are Best Bites. Those three are your go-to blends. Here are two that don’t live up to their names: ■ Jamba Fruit & Veggie. Added sugar means no Best Bite. What’s more, the veggies are dwarfed by the fruit, and the Green Fusion has more sugar and modified food starch than broccoli or spinach. ■ Dole Power Shakers. “Taste like fruit, not veggies,” say the labels. No surprise there. Dole doesn’t add many veggies. They’re mostly fruit and milk with some added sugar and vitamins. Blends Have More Fun Best Bites (44) have no added sugars or juice. Our chart gives numbers for one serving of each blend plus ¾ cup of low-fat milk. Products are ranked from least to most total sugars, then least to most calories, then most to least protein. Best Bite. 1Average. * 2.5 teaspoons of sugar occur naturally in the ¾ cup of milk we used to prepare each smoothie. The chart lists total sugars because labels don’t break down how much sugar is added and how much occurs naturally in the fruit. Note: To convert teaspoons of sugar to grams, multiply by 4.2. Protein Daily Target: 75 grams. Calcium Daily Value (DV): 1,000 mg. Source: company information. The use of information from this article for commercial purposes is strictly prohibited without written permission from CSPI. Dairy & Almond While frozen smoothie blends are mostly fruit, dairy smoothies are mostly drinkable yogurt...or kefir or skyr, yogurt’s European cousins. Don’t expect much fruit. Our Best Bites have no added sugars (or questionable or unsafe sweeteners). They also have no more than 150 calories and 2 grams of saturated fat per cup, plus at least 6 grams of protein (what you’d get in ¾ cup of milk). Honorable Mentions can have added sugar (though our calorie limit eliminates the higher-sugar ones). Tip: Many 16 oz. Smoothie labels give calories, etc., for an 8 oz. Serving, even though most people are likely to drink the entire bottle. In our chart, a serving is the whole bottle, except for large (32 oz.) Bottles, where we use an 8 oz. Serving. These are worth a sip: ¦ B’more Organic Skyr Smoothie. All six thick and creamy flavors, like Caffè Latte and Mango Banana, are Best Bites. ■ B’more uses (safe) stevia instead of sugar. The skyr—that’s Icelandic (think Greek) yogurt—packs 15 to 20 grams of protein into each cup. ■ Lifeway Perfect 12 Kefir. With flavors like Key Lime Pie and Apple Pear Cobbler, you’d expect scads of sugar. Instead, all four Best Bites are made with stevia. Kefir (a type of cultured milk) is more tart than skyr. And the 11 grams of protein per cup is nothing to sneeze at. ■ Stonyfield OP. Milk protein concentrate boosts the protein (to 15 grams in a 10 oz. Bottle). Stevia and erythritol (another safe sweetener) stand in for most of the added sugar. Two of the three flavors are Honorable Mentions. ■ Siggi’s Swedish Style Filmjölk. Like any low-fat plain drinkable yogurt, Siggi’s version is a Best Bite. The other flavors—all Honorable Mentions—have only about 1½ teaspoons of added sugar per cup, says Siggi’s. They’re lower in protein (8 grams per cup) than smoothies made from skyr or kefir. ■ Smart Ones Smart Delights. Stevia replaces some added sugar in these frozen milk-fruit-yogurt “Thaw & Go” smoothies. ■ Lifeway Protein Kefir. All four flavors have 160 calories per cup, so they just miss an Honorable Mention. But Protein Kefir has no more added sugar than most of Lifeway’s other kefirs, the company told us. The extra calories come from added whey protein concentrate, which boosts the protein to 20 grams per cup. Don’t waste your calories on these: ■ Bolthouse Farms Breakfast Smoothies. A “Perfectly Protein Fruit + Yogurt + Whole Grain Smoothie” may sound good. But The Strawberry Parfait flavor has more (nutrient-poor) apple juice than yogurt or strawberry purée. The Peach Parfait isn’t much better. And their “10g of protein per bottle” ain’t much for 360 calories, some of them from added sugar. ■ Naked Nutmilk Smoothies. The Berry Almond has more apple juice than almond milk or blackberry purée. Its 11 grams of protein (from almonds and soy protein isolate) come at a cost: 330 calories per 15 oz. Bottle. The Peachy Almond has “only” 300 calories. ■ Bolthouse Farms Blueberry Banana Almondmilk Smoothie. “It’s dairy-free bliss at 110 calories per serving,” says the website. Each 15 oz. Bottle lets you blissfully swallow about 210 calories, added sugar (agave), just 2 grams of protein, and (maybe) 7 almonds. Some Like ’em Tart Best Bites (44) have no added sugars, no unsafe or questionable sweeteners, no more than 150 calories and 2 grams of saturated fat per cup, and at least 6 grams of protein per cup. Honorable Mentions (4) have the same criteria, but can have added sugars. Products are ranked from least to most total sugars, then least to most calories, then most to least protein. Best Bite. 4 Honorable Mention. 1Average. F Contains 5 grams of saturated fat. S Contains sucralose and acesulfamepotassium. The chart lists total sugars because labels don’t break down how much sugar is added and how much occurs naturally in the dairy ingredients or fruit. Note: To convert teaspoons of sugar to grams, multiply by 4.2. Juice Juice smoothies are mostly juice plus fruit or vegetable purée. They may have a health halo, but none are Best Bites. That’s because you’re better off eating whole fruit or veggies. People are less likely to compensate for liquid calories—even if they come from 100% juice—by eating less food later. So juice can help pad your waistline. And some juice smoothie labels are, let’s just say, pretty smooth. Here are a few of their tricks: ■ No sugar added. “NO SUGAR ADDED,” says Naked Boosted Blue Machine. True, but a 15 oz. Bottle has 320 calories and 13 teaspoons of naturally occurring sugar, mostly from (nutrient-poor) apple juice plus some puréed banana and berries. ■ How many servings? “3¾ servings of fruit per bottle,” says the 15 oz. Bottle of Bolthouse Farms C-Boost. As the asterisk on the label notes, a half cup (4 oz.) Of juice counts as a serving of fruit. (Don’t blame us. The U.S. Department of Agriculture counts juice as fruit.) So any 15 oz. Bottle of juice has 3¾ servings of fruit. (C-Boost is a mix of juice and purée.) ■ Mostly apple juice? “Strawberries, raspberries and blackberries all together in one smoothie? Whoa. It’s like a tiny farmers market in my hand,” says Naked Pure Fruit Berry Blast. Tiny, indeed. Each 15 oz. Bottle has only a handful of berries (5 blackberries, 4 raspberries, and 4 strawberries). Most of the Berry Blast is apple juice. ■ Greens? Trader Joe’s Very Green smoothie may look like a bottle of kale juice, but it’s mostly apple juice, fruit purées, and pineapple juice, with less than a tenth of an ounce of “dried greens blend.” Other smoothies with just a smidgen of greens: Bolthouse Farms Green Goodness, Naked Boosted Green Machine (with “10 green turbo-nutrients”), and Odwalla Original Superfood. ■ Vitamins & Fiber. “32% daily value fiber per serving,” says Bolthouse Farms Multi-V Goodness Cherry. “100% daily value of 13 essential vitamins per serving.” So what? Bolthouse adds those 13 vitamins to its mostly-applejuice smoothie. And much of the fiber comes from dextrin and inulin, not fruit purée. Those processed fibers may not have the same benefits as fiber-rich whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans. Juice Not Worth It We didn’t award any Best Bites because liquid calories in juice are more likely to lead to weight gain than whole fruits and vegetables. Products are ranked from least to most calories, then least to most total sugars, then most to least protein.